Breaking Barriers for Untapped Talent

Breakingbarriers F1

We recognize that the advertising industry needs greater creative representation of women and people of color. What are the actionable steps and relationships we need to forge to get us there? How we can start cultivating diversity in our industry?

Finding a creative job in advertising isn’t easy. And for talented people of color, it’s even more challenging. The time is beyond overdue to open the door—even wider if necessary—for those who’ve been unconsidered and overlooked for way too long. 

Seven years ago, the 3% Movement was started by a female creative director to raise awareness that only 3% of all creative directors in the US were women. The percentage is far less for people of color. Since the 3% Movement’s efforts—annual conferences, workshops, training and advocacy—the percentage of women in creative leadership positions has increased to 11%. The organization is now focused on increasing diversity.

Cultural and ethnic diversity is a hot topic in today’s business world. As our global economy becomes more integrated and interdependent, sources like Scientific American, Fast Company and Forbes keep the conversation going. 

Being around people who are different from us makes us more creative, more diligent and harder-working.” -- Katherine W. Phillips, Scientific American, 10.1.14

It’s evident that the advertising community—locally and globally—needs greater representation of diversity, not just in creative positons, but in all areas. I’ve thought about what’s needed to get us there. Developing understanding, acknowledgment and personally connecting to people of color will help break down the barriers they face.

We can take three actionable steps to cultivate accessibility and inclusion: advocate, mentor and co-create.


This includes supporting literacy, nurturing art and representing diversity in our marketing efforts. Join or give to one of Rochester’s local organizations that fulfills a specific educational need and whose main goal is to improve our community as a whole. Volunteer to be able to meet diverse individuals and form relationships. Get to know them on a human level and you’ll start empowering them to visualize opportunities.

Representing diversity is always top-of-mind in advertising. But we need to take it beyond choosing a typical stock photo of ethnically diverse talent. For our Roberts Wesleyan College Adult Graduate School TV spot, we honored the subject, Jennifer Boutte, by allowing her to create her own script and express her own story about Roberts. We wanted the spot to be real and authentic and yet tell a story that universally appealed to all prospects.


Once you’ve developed a bond or connection with someone, think about the ways you can give them experiences and professional connections. Give them opportunities where they can practice their talent and hone their skills. Invite high school students to shadow for a day or make a commitment to create an internship program that includes diversity. The 4 A’s started MAIP (Multi-Cultural Advertising Intern Program) to give agencies access to a diverse pool of talented advertising students seeking summer internships.

Dixon Schwabl is partnering with East High School and Edison Tech High School Advisory Council Board to talk to classes about creative careers in our industry and offer activities such as field trips and shadow days. We also conduct tours at our office and encourage students to seek internship opportunities. After one talented Edison student (an orphaned refugee from Honduras) came for a tour, the visit inspired him to pursue a career in advertising and communication. He received a full scholarship to RIT as an incoming freshman.


My fellow board member and Monroe Community College English professor Tokeya Graham discovered a talented writing student pursuing a communication degree at MCC. She asked Gianni White to write a poem in honor of the Women’s Foundation and perform it at a grant awards luncheon in 2015. People were so taken by the inspiring message and artistic delivery that they wanted copies of Gianni’s poem. I also approached Gianni, Buffalo-based photographer and director Rhea Anna and producer Robin Buonomo about creating a film from the poem. We recruited 20+ crew members and talent to produce the piece and it became the anchor for the Women’s Foundation brand.

Since then, we’ve hired Gianni to work on two freelance writing assignments that best matched her talents to the clients’ needs. We even featured Gianni and Tokeya on our podcast.

The basic equation: Compassion + Connection = More Meaningful Creativity.

Compassion is understanding how privilege, opportunity and environment directly influence one’s success in life. Diversity training helps us better understand the barriers and guides us to becoming objectively empathetic.

Connection is coming together through a common desire to thrive and seek happiness. One way to connect to people outside your circle is by joining a group with the purpose of improving the community at large. Making the effort to expand our reach, communicate and recognize talent is important in spreading opportunity.

Compassion and connecting are inherent in each of us. Through our thoughts, words and actions, we can create different conditions and possibilities. We have the power to bring about change. And outcomes that are beneficial to everyone.

Ann McAllister is a creative director and an eternal source of positive energy. Her personality infuses life into projects and fuels creativity. She’s a member of the United Way Women’s Leadership Council and the board of directors of the Women’s Foundation of Genesee Valley.

Ann McAllister
Ann McAllister
Creative Director

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